Vermont Gov. Phil Scott is urging people to stay home and keep their distance from each other, anticipating an increase in coronavirus cases as the state takes steps to reopen its economy.
"Restarting some businesses doesn’t mean things are back to normal, and while I believe we will get there eventually, we’re not there yet," Scott said in a news conference, Monday.
The state has allowed limited business operations to resume after seeing a sustained reduction in the number of new cases over a two-week period. As of Monday, the state had reported 855 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, including 47 fatalities.
"I just want to prepare Vermonters. I don't want them to get lulled into this complacency," Scott said, noting that in nearby Massachusetts, there were nearly 1,000 deaths last week alone and 169 deaths reported Sunday.
“Even though we’ve allowed some Vermonters go back to work, the Stay Home, Stay Safe order remains in effect," Scott said. "It’s important we keep this up. If we want to allow more businesses to open up, we must stay vigilant.”
Scott said he would continue taking slow and careful steps to reopen the state’s economy, but has signaled if COVID-19 infections pick up, progress could be dialed back again.
“We must put public health first,” Scott said. “We’re carefully weighing the data every day so when it shows we can take steps to put more Vermonters back to work, we will continue to do so.”
Health Commissioner Mark Levine outlined the criteria that officials are looking for as they reopen the economy: A sustained reduction in cases for at least two weeks; a health care system that is safely able to treat all patients; the ability to test all people who have symptoms and the ability to carry out contact-tracing.
With a focus on mental health, Levine emphasized that people should stay physically distant but maintain safe contact with friends and family.
Scott announced Friday that farmers' markets could start up May 1 for mask-wearing customers, but the events must focus on food sales, not social time.
Starting Monday, the state is allowing five-person work crews, provided their jobs are outside. Teams of five are also allowed for manufacturing and construction in unoccupied spaces — but those workers must keep their distance, the governor insisted.
Certain retailers such as garden centers, which had been offering curbside pickup only, are allowed to resume in-person sales Monday, too — outdoors — with no more than 10 shoppers and staff total at a time.
“Each of us has to be smart and has to be vigilant,” Scott said Friday, noting that safety protocols such as hand-washing and reducing contact with others still must be followed.
More guidelines are available here to inform businesses about the phased-in reopening of Vermont’s economy.